Recently, one of my favorite teachers passed away suddenly of a heart attack at the very young age of 53.  Last year while searching for a job I decided to substitute teach to fill my time and my pockets!  It was until this experience that I truly realized the profound impact a teacher can make, and how important their jobs are.  Mr. Hungerford was a brilliant math teacher, and also a great role model.  Not only did he speak my “math language”, but he was also a great man to go to for advice.  He will truly be missed!  I found an article on him today discussing the points I just mentioned above.

From Politics Daily by Melinda Henneberger

When my friend Kim Harris was all of 14 years old, she told me at a sleepover that she was going to marry her boyfriend Dana Hungerford some day. Of course that’s what happened or I wouldn’t be telling you this, but they were together until he died of a heart attack last Thursday, at age 53. The father of two and grandfather of nine, he had just begun his 30th year as a math teacher at Fairfield Community High School, in a Southern Illinois town of 5,400 not far from where we all grew up. As news of his death spread this weekend, a couple of his former students put up a Facebook page for tributes to him, and by Sunday night, more than 900 people had joined and were swapping stories about his bad jokes and good influence:

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— “I have never had a class where I could learn so much and still laugh so hard.”
— “I’m a basically unteachable math student and he was very patient, never made me feel stupid.”
— “I always did so poorly in math and he made it fun and always made sure I understood what he was talking about. . . . [H]e always came to class in a good mood and boosted everyone up.”
And so on; Michelle Rhee, eat your heart out. Because my own husband covers the Rhee-run D.C. public schools for The Washington Post, I may have heard more than my fair share about the fierce debate over whether we could improve the quality of education in some of our iffier public schools by holding teachers accountable for their students’ scores on standardized tests. (Should teachers be evaluated and compensated according to their ability to improve student scores every year? Or does the fact that there are so many more factors at play – in the school, home and community – make this an unfair way to assess a teacher’s real worth?)

Although I don’t pretend to know the answer, reading over the tributes to Dana did suggest that a teacher’s most important contributions might be the hardest to measure – and that personal or even strictly academic progress wouldn’t necessarily translate into net gains in proficiency levels.

Some of those who left messages said they hadn’t even had Dana as a teacher – but had gone to him anyway for help with homework, or for advice, or because “he was always the teacher to go to if you needed a good laugh.” Not everyone who took his class was transformed into a math whiz. But support and laughs are no less essential than basic skills, even if they are impossible to document: “He was my math teacher for Algebra I for several years thanks to my excellence in math,” one former student wrote, then went on to remember how good it had felt to share a joke with him. “He made me believe I could do anything,” said one young woman; how could you ever quantify that? And even more than he wanted his students to learn math, said another, “he wanted them to find direction and to enjoy the life God gave them.”
A high school and college basketball player, he coached for several years in the 1980s, and his obit in the Evansville Courier & Press notes that “his career record was 25 wins and 75 losses.” Though Dana loved numbers, and insisted they were fun, career stats for teachers (and other humans) are trickier. His funeral on Tuesday will be held in the school, the only place big enough to hold the expected crowd.
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